Nainital: A Magical Town

More than one man has attempted to slide down from the uppermost point of the ropeway down to the Mall Road, wearing a yellow shirt and red pants – hoping to relive the magic of ‘Jo Jeeta Woh Sikander.’ More than one couple on their honeymoon has stood on Dorothy’s seat, the highest point in the town, and looked down at the magnificent quadrangle of Sherwood College and dreamt of sending their son to the historically glorious school. More than one lover has taken their partner on a boat ride and said the three words bang in the middle of the Naini Lake, having the seven surrounding mountains for witnesses. Every single person, who has visited the beautiful town of Nainital, has a memory attached with the magic that encapsulates them with every step taken in and around the town.

To begin with, getting to this hill town by car or bus will have you experience two things. Not necessarily in the order, but first you will be awestruck and amazed at the beauty of the roads and the feeling of being in the lap of nature. Secondly, you may feel sick thanks to motion sickness and quite obviously, the height at which you would be – which only makes you dizzy. But, if you ignore the second factor, the drive up to the hill station is one of the most gratifying experiences you may ever go through without having really done anything. Rolling down the windows, feeling the chill in your face and listening to any old Hindi number will more than just please the mind, body and soul. Getting glimpses of the grammatically incorrect road signs and warnings, the temporary settlements and tea shops, women carrying firewood uphill and the winding roads only builds the excitement and sets the tone for the best that is to come. Of course, one stop at Dogaon or Jeolikote, if you are travelling from the Haldwani route is mandatory to freshen up and eat some of the most tasty bread ‘pakoras’ and bun omelettes along with tea, which is exceptionally sweet – and rightly so.

Once the town is reached, a nominal entry fee is charged which varies on weekdays and weekends, for municipal purposes. The drive down from the ‘Barah Pathhar’ road towards the Mall Road is just an indication of the environment of the town, showcasing a series of the most magnificent structures of the town, including the Uttrakhand High Court, the Manu Maharani Hotel and some older structures now disbanded or used for residence. As the road opens up to a huge field, commonly known as ‘Flats,’ the entire town, more or less, comes into sight, with the path on the right leading up to some of the finest boarding schools of the country. Two sides of the ‘Flats’ that is used for every sporting activity is the Mall Road and the remaining sides have the Tibetan market, which is also referred to as the ‘Bhutia’ market and the Naini Lake forming the periphery. A host of roadside food joints and a walking shopping arcade welcomes the tourist along the stretch of the Tibetan market – quite a spectacle. Right towards the end of the cemented pathway of the arcade is the Capitol Cinema – a historic location, considering it is the oldest movie theatre and perhaps the only one in the town.

The Bhutia market has a series of food joints with queer names like China Town, Hard Rock Cafe – each serving some lip-smacking Chinese food and soups and some local Indian delicacies like parathas and chicken tandoori at a more than affordable rate. However, the pick, if hygiene is not an issue, for momo’s, tucked away in a corner, is a small place called Sonam’s. Without much exaggeration, the steamed chicken and mutton momos served, along with the clear soup, should be on your ‘must-eat-before-dying’ list. Along the path of the arcade, parallel to the field, are found a lot of the stalls serving the regulars, ranging from chaat to churan and corn – each serving identical food. Also, if you aren’t too keen to visit the Naina Devi Mandir, which one ideally must for its location by the lake, relishing the ‘pedas’ and milk cake available outside the temple will definitely wash off your sins, or fill you up with the same. Another must try simply for the experience, though the taste is nothing exceptional, is the ice cream softie found just next to the rickshaw stand on Mall Road. Shifting focus from the street and finger food, some of the restaurants dotted along the Mall Road, serve exquisite chicken dishes, Punjabi food and sizzlers – Embassy being the pick of the lot for their milkshakes also, amongst various others like Machan, Ritz, Sher-e-Punjab.

Places to visit in and around the town are plenty beginning with the Mallital Market, for the ivory and other exotic Tibetan jewellery, also available in ‘Bhutia’ Market apart from the shawls and woollens. Even though a host of retail brands now dot the Mall Road, older stores have not lost their charm. A short visit to Kilbury, half an hour away from Nainital won’t do much harm, if one is interested in camping. A host of other lake towns like Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal make for good getaways and a quiet afternoon, for the peace and quiet they bring along, with no shortage of resorts for accommodation. Within Nainital, however, the Dorothy’s seat also referred to as the Tiffan Top, is a must visit for the view that it provides from atop. Also, visiting the old British institutions, some of the finest in the country are worth visiting – St. Joseph’s School for its architecture and Sherwood College for the same and its legacy, having alumni like Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw and Amitabh Bachchan, to name a few. A mandatory boat ride on the lake must be on your list of things to do, apart from the experiencing the Ropeway – for plain tourist pleasure. The Jim Corbett National Wildlife Park is an unsaid option for a visit – keeping a few days in hand for wildlife lovers with the hope of spotting a tiger. Also, the Observatory on the way to Nainital provides for excellent learning in the astronomical and scientific fields.

Accommodation is generally not an issue, considering the fact that the number of hotels, by far outdo any other business establishment in the town. Slightly in the upper note and fall under the bracket of luxury hotels are locations like The Manu Maharani, Vikram Vintage, Arif Castle, The Alka – Lake Front Hotel and Claridges Naini Retreat. To reduce the pocket pinch, hotels like Channi Raja, India Hotel and Everest Hotel offer negotiable tariffs, depending on the seasonal offers. Not carrying a camera on this trip would be anything but an unforgivable sin. Communication also is not an issue, with a phone booths and internet cafes that can be spotted every now and then, at most intervals. An ideal time to visit this town, according to a tour guide would be sometime in April – May, but the flock of tourists coming in to escape the heat of the plains, makes it totally difficult. So, if you are ready to brave the cold weather to an extent, anytime between mid-septembers to mid-November should be a good time to enjoy the holiday, also keeping in mind the dipped hotel tariffs. The most convenient way to get to Nainital is by catching a train to Kathgoadam, an hours’ drive away, or else to Bareilly which is three hours away. However, if train connectivity is an issue, a flight to Delhi should do the trick, since a car drive from the capital to Nainital is close to six hours, but can be tiresome.

So, if you’re a nature lover, a crazy shutterbug, or simply love to travel, Nainital should be on your list, if you already haven’t visited this hill town. Also, if you have a fancy for the winters and want to get away from the hustle-bustle of everyday city life, this is the place to be. Another point, for trivia, is that Nainital is the only town yet untouched by the commercial brands and food joints, with just a lone Cafe Coffee Day sitting pretty on the Mall Road, with great difficulties. If that pleases you, and nothing else does, don’t wait – start packing.

Once you reach, you will realize what I mean. This town is magical. Indeed.

Naman Saraiya

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